Sunday, May 31, 2009

What is real?

We live in a world that is increasingly fake. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the primary reasons is that technology has made it easier for people to pull the wool over our eyes.

For example, law enforcement personnel spend millions of dollars each year to stay ahead of counterfeiters. Technological advances have allowed crooks to produce fake money that looks like the real thing.

The recent redesigning of some of our paper currency was not done on a whim. It was done to make the job of counterfeiters more difficult.

However, the fight between those who enforce the law and those who break it is a lot like a boxing match. Every time one side gets the upper hand, the other side throws a counter punch that causes both sides to change strategies.

Guaranteeing authenticity to people is a big challenge to merchants in some industries. After all, if they can not convince customers what they are selling is authentic, then they will not make a sale.

I do not watch home shopping channels on television that much, but this is a big emphasis for them. Whether it is a piece of clothing or an expensive coin, they often state that the purchase of an item will include a certificate of authenticity.

I do not know what that means. Who does the certifying in circumstances like this? I would assume it is an expert in the field of whatever is being purchased. Still, this does not mean that it is a flawless process.

Recently, the auction house Christie's announced its intention to auction off a poem supposedly written by singer Bob Dylan when he was a teenager.

Nobody doubted that the poem was in Dylan's handwriting. It was not a forgery, but it turned out that the poem was actually the words to a song by Hank Snow that was recorded back in the 1940s.

Red-faced representatives of Christie's conceded the mistake, but still plans to auction the manuscript as part of its Pop Culture auction on June 23, according to the Reuters news agency.

Originally, it had been expected that the manuscript would fetch between $10,000 and $15,000. Now, I can not imagine anyone paying more than a buck and a quarter for it.

Guaranteeing authenticity is also a big challenge for the sports memorabilia business. The selling of merchandise autographed by athletes is big business, and why not? For men who follow sports, nothing bonds them quicker to athletes than something autographed by them.

Of course, access to athletes is restricted so many people buy this memorabilia from merchants who specialize in this field.

The dangers here are obvious. If counterfeiters have the technology to print fake money, then forging a signature is relatively simple. And that can be big trouble for athletes.

In order to avoid forgery, athletes are often told to sign their name sloppily so crooks do not have access to their real signature. This may protect athletes, but it can dampen the excitement of getting an autograph.

A few years ago, Sports Illustrated magazine was selling old covers that included autographs of those on the cover. A friend of mine decided to buy one that was autographed by basketball legend Larry Bird.

However, he was disappointed when he received it. Bird had written his name so illegibly it was tough to make out the words.

He showed it to me. I could make out the 'L' and the 'B' but the rest was a scribble.

It looked more like a doodle than a signature.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quote of the day: God and environmentalism

"Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth." -- Psalm 96: 11-13.

It is too bad that the word 'environmentalist' has been hijacked so that many people think it only refers to extremists who put this cause ahead of everything else. It is true there is a large group of people who have taken things too far. However, Christianity and nature go hand in hand.

After all, the Bible is full of passages that deal specifically with nature. The verses I posted above are just one example. If you do not believe me, google the words 'Bible and nature' and see what type of response you get. The beauty of nature is one of the most important pieces of evidence Christians can present when it comes to defending the existence of God and our faith.

When it comes to the resources God has blessed us with, it is important that we be good stewards of them. People think of this mostly when it comes to managing our money and other material assets. This line of thinking should also apply to different aspects of life, including how we use environmental resources.

If we do not, everything could go: 'Poof!'

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Country music dominating my listening habits these days, part 2

I've got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell. That and country music. My country music fixation continues. Instead of it being a phase, it appears to be growing and growing. I must be mellowing. Say it ain't so...

Here are some tunes to consider:

'Coat of Many Colors' by Dolly Parton
'Lost Highway' by Hank Williams
'Sixteen Tons' by Tennessee Ernie Ford
'Sunday Morning Coming Down' by Johnny Cash
'Coal Miner's Daughter' by Loretta Lynn
'Behind Closed Doors' by Charlie Rich
'The Most Beautiful Girl' by Charlie Rich
'If We Make it Through December' by Merle Haggard
'Kiss an Angel Good Morning' by Charley Pride
'I Can Help' by Billy Swan
'He Loves Me All the Way' by Tammy Wynette
'The Happiest Girl in the U.S.A.' by Donna Fargo
'When You’re Hot, You’re Hot' by Jerry Reed
'My Woman, My Woman, My Wife' by Marty Robbins
'Rose Garden' by Lynn Anderson
'I Ain't Never' by Mel Tillis
'Country Sunshine' by Dottie West

Monday, May 25, 2009

Will the Atlanta Braves be a player in the N.L. East race this year?

Just as Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start to summer, it is also the point when Major League Baseball's regular season is 25 percent complete. For Atlanta Braves' fans, the big question is whether or not the team will challenge for the National League Eastern Division title.

After a bumpy April and early May, the Braves have shown life. On Sunday, they completed a home stand that saw them post a 6-3 record. Before that, the team posted a 7-2 road trip against divisional foes Florida, Philadelphia, and New York. As of this writing, the Braves record is 23-21, and they are two games out of first place.

Their strength is obviously starting pitching. Derek Lowe (6-2, 3.45 ERA) and Jair Jurrjens (4-2, 2.07 ERA) lead the staff, and if they both continue to pitch well, they deserve consideration for the All-Star game. Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami had been a disappointment until his start last Friday. He outlasted Toronto ace Roy Halladay in a beautiful 1-0 win. If he becomes more consistent and a solid fifth starter emerges, they could anchor a run for the divisional title.

The offense is the biggest concern. Entering the season, most conceded the Braves would not be an offensive juggernaut, and that has played out so far. Injuries have not helped the situation. Catcher Brian McCann has spent time on the disabled list. Third baseman Chipper Jones and leftfielder Garrett Anderson have both struggled with injuries that caused them to miss games. To compete for the title, these three must stay healthy.

Maybe my loyalty is getting in the way of my sound judgment, but I think the Braves will be in this until September. The Mets are underachievers, the Phillies look like they are suffering a World Series' hangover, and the Marlins are too streaky.

If the Braves find a way to score four runs a game, they will be playing in October.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

We got dem credit card blues

As part of the federal government's mandate to solve the problems of every single American citizen, President Barack Obama and Congress are increasing efforts to reign in the credit card industry.

During the last couple of decades, the credit card industry has gotten more and more aggressive when it comes to attracting customers. In some cases, it is laughably easy to get a card.

For example, when I began attending the University of Tennessee years ago, I was given a credit card application within my first few days on campus. I filled it out, and within weeks, I had a card with a line of credit in the thousands of dollars.

So, if you are a parent who will be sending a child off to college in the coming months, I strongly advise you to have a conversation with him or her about the perils of easy credit. If you do not, trouble may be coming in the next few years.

As for our government, leaders in Washington have taken action on a number of credit card company practices, according to the Associated Press. For example, legislation could do away with interest-rate hikes on existing balances, prohibit issuers from putting customer payments toward lower-rate balances first, and abolish the practice of raising a customer's interest rate because he was late paying a bill to someone else.

While these efforts are noble in some respects, the legislation is not taking into consideration one key ingredient: the cardholders themselves.

In an age where many people have trouble balancing their own checkbook, is it any wonder that we cannot handle the responsibility of having a credit card?

A reason that our recession has plunged so deep is that a lot of the prosperity the United States enjoyed in the last 20 years was artificial. Whether it was the government's spending habits or our own, many have used credit too liberally.

We adopted a "spend today, worry tomorrow" mentality to finance lifestyles that we really could not afford to maintain.

This was inviting disaster, and it occurred when unemployment started rising. People who were already juggling debt just to break even did not have anything to fall back on when they lost their job.

Though some have criticized financial guru Dave Ramsey for having an overly simplistic approach to debt, he is correct about one aspect of spending.

In his book Financial Peace, he did an effective job of describing the impact a purchase can have from an emotional/psychological/common sense point of view.

He pointed out that we have a totally different feeling within ourselves when deciding whether to make a purchase using cash or a credit card.

When we reach in our wallets and take that cash out, we swallow a little harder when compared to using a credit card. After all, when using a card, all a person has to do is swipe it and sign for the purchase. Then, we go off to spend more.

When using cash, we find ourselves thinking about how big an impact it will have on our budget and whether or not we should even make that next purchase.

This approach reminds us that our budgets are not infinite, and it forces us to be good stewards of our money.

As for credit card companies, change is definitely coming to that industry. Those companies have made suckers out of a lot of people. Now, those people want blood and want the government to do the dirty work.

It is the dawn of a new age.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Add Steven Spielberg's 'Munich' to the list of films you need to see

The 1972 Summer Olympics were one of the first sporting events I can recall watching as a child. I was only seven years old, but the event left a lasting impression on me. The impression was not only because of the athletic performances I saw, but also because of tragedy.

It was at these games that Arab terrorists stormed the Olympic compound and took the Israeli national team hostage. Two Israeli's were murdered in their rooms, and the remaining nine were executed at an airport as the terrorists attempted to leave. I have never forgotten the brilliance of ABC's Jim McKay as he reported on the crisis then had to tell the world that all the athletes were dead.

Steven Spielberg's Munich picks up the story after the slaughter. It tells the story of the elite squad the Israeli government put together to track down and execute the Palestinians responsible for this.

In less skilled hands, this film might have degenerated into just another revenge yarn. However, Spielberg does an excellent job of dealing with the subject matter in a three-dimensional way. He tells the story of the squad's quest to track down the murderers, but also includes the viewpoint of the Palestinians, as well as the toll this assignment had on the Israeli agents.

For a more in-depth review, click here.

This is a great film. It is rated 'R' primarily for violence.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The verdict on KFC's new grilled chicken: it's pretty good

Oprah Winfrey gave KFC tons of publicity regarding its new grilled chicken. In Nashville, colleagues of mine told me of the long lines at restaurants as people went there to use their free chicken coupon.

Because of this, I purposely stayed away from KFC until today. I tried the new chicken, and I liked it. It was a lot more tender than I was expecting, which is critical for grilled chicken. It retained its juiciness and had a nice flavor.

Obviously, this is fast food chicken we are talking about, and it will never be as good as grandma's. However, if you are in a hurry and have a taste for chicken, this is a pretty good option to consider.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When in Gallatin, eat at 'Larriviere’s' on the square

Last Saturday, a friend and I went to Gallatin on business. After we completed our task, we asked some local folks where we could find a good place to have lunch. They recommended Larriviere's on the square, and it was an excellent experience.

The restaurant is a cross between a meat and three and a burger joint. I took the burger joint option and had a cheeseburger. It had a generously thick cut of Angus beef that was quite juicy. It was piled high with trimmings, and the french fries were also good. They were thick but retained their crispiness.

My friend had crawfish etoufee, and his portion was so large that he could not finish it all.

I highly recommend eating there if the opportunity presents itself. One note: Gallatin is currently refurbishing its town square, so the streets are torn up. However, there is ample parking within walking distance of the eatery, so there should be no problem there. Additionally, there is a Larriviere's located in Mt. Juliet for those who live in that area.

As always, for more insight on restaurants, cooking, and good eating in Middle Tennessee, please visit Joltin' Django's blog: A Man's Gotta Eat. He has a lot of good information on it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another one bites the dust

It is not easy being a baseball fan these days. Every time it looks like the game is distancing itself from the steroids era, another controversy hits it right between the eyes.

The latest scandal was the suspension of Los Angeles Dodgers' outfielder Manny Ramirez for 50 games because of a drug violation. Ramirez chose not to appeal the suspension and will not return to the team until early July.

He claimed this violation was a result of medication prescribed for him by his personal physician. The medication included contents that are banned by Major League Baseball's drug policy, and he failed to verify whether the contents were acceptable or not.

According to published reports, the drug he tested positive for was the female fertility drug HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin.

A female fertility drug? This may seem like a wacky way to flunk a drug test, but some experts state the drug is used by steroid users because it can limit the side effects of stopping a drug cycle.

So, fans have to make up their own minds whether to believe Ramirez made a simple mistake or was trying to cover other possible drug usage.

The real shame is that Ramirez's achievements will never be looked at the same way again. With more than 500 career home runs, he is easily one of the best sluggers of the last 50 years.

Additionally, one of the reasons he is such a popular player is because he is so likeable. In an age where star players make tens of millions of dollars, there is a goofiness to his personality that shines through and people have responded to it.

True, he took a public relations' hit for the way he weaseled himself into a trade that sent him to Los Angeles from Boston. However, he seems to love L.A., and the feeling was mutual out there before this mess.

On the positive side, his suspension shows baseball is serious about cleaning up its drug problem. Ramirez is the first superstar to be hit with a 50-game suspension since baseball toughened its testing standards.

Until now, only some role players had received a suspension, and there was a concern baseball executives would be hesitant to drop the hammer on a big name. Skeptics can now drop their concerns.

Of course, this has happened while the media spotlight continues to shine on New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez admitted a few months ago that he used steroids while he was a member of the Texas Rangers.

Rodriguez is clearly the best player in professional baseball. For years, it was believed he had never used the juice, and Major League Baseball placed a lot of its hopes on him to lead the sport out of the steroids era.

This will not happen now. Even if he breaks Barry Bonds' all-time home run record, his achievements will be belittled the way Bonds' statistics have been. Though he never was suspended for steroids use, Bonds has been accused and investigated for the last several years regarding possible usage.

Though Ramirez and Rodriguez have lost a lot because of their decisions, the real losers are the youth of America. Teenage athletes have grown up watching player after player get exposed for drug use.

The temptation for them is obvious. If the athletes they idolize are doing this to get a competitive edge, why shouldn't they do it? It is part of our human nature to believe we can get away with something even when others are caught.

Let's hope they won't make a mistake they will regret.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'm too tired to post anything.......

I'm sorry, but I’m just too tired to post anything tonight. I know it is still early, but I don't see it happening.

As I turn my attention to my bedroom, I hear by king-size bed gently calling my name.

"Please wash my sheets," it says. "Please wash my pillow cases. I can't take another night of this."

I didn't realize that my bed was so needy. As a compromise, I'll put on some old sheets and pillow cases and save the washing for another time.

Shalom everybody.

Next stop: Slumberland

Is that Erin Andrews?


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gas prices soar back above $2 a Barack Obama responsible?

In the last week or so, gas prices have returned to familiar territory. Most of Middle Tennessee is now paying more than $2 per gallon. The big question is: who is responsible for the increase?

From the international point of view, OPEC reduced its daily production of oil a couple of months ago. Since the United States relies on OPEC for a lot of its oil, this artificial shortage has helped increase prices.

From the political point of view, our own government deserves some blame. When gas prices soared during the Bush administration, many were quick to accuse him of being in a conspiracy with America's large oil and gas companies. Of course, there was no evidence to support that, but it was a charge that often stuck to the Texan.

So, if we are going to be fair, President Obama deserves blame, too. Somewhere, the president is likely smoking a big fat cigar with the president of Exxon. Of course, I have no proof of that, but if people were willing to stick it to Bush, then Obama should get stuck, too.

From a personal point of view, the weather is getting warmer, which usually leads to more traveling by the public. Increased demand equals higher prices. It is as simple as that.

If there has been one silver lining in the recession, it has been that we have had to cut back on our driving. This helped drive prices down.

Let's hope we are not returning to our old driving habits.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bob Dylan kicks Miley Cyrus' butt

Last week, Bob Dylan became the oldest artist to have an album debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

Dylan is 67, and Together Through Life is his second consecutive album to debut at #1. In 2006, his Modern Times also debuted in the top spot.

Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack is parked at second.

This has to rank as one of the strangest pairings to hold the top two spots.

Dylan is a legend who continues to produce music as vital as he did 40 years ago. Miss Cyrus is the latest teen sensation, and her music will likely not be remembered in the year 2049.

I do not mean that as an insult to her, but her flavor of bubblegum music usually does not last long. Then again, I could be wrong. She may become one of the leading artists of her generation.

When it comes to these things, I am rarely a good judge of future events.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Your tax dollars at work

When it comes to the financial situation of our country, we have heard it all in the last few months.

A multi-billion dollar stimulus package was passed by the federal government to ease the pressure people are feeling because of the recession.

Of course, this spending has caused our national debt to deepen, and many people have legitimate concerns regarding how this will be dealt with in the long run.

Last month, there were protests held across the nation that expressed frustration about our federal government's approach to spending.

Because of the recession, most Americans have had to make sacrifices to deal with the situation. Families have cut their budgets. Businesses have cut back on spending in ways that have resulted in jobs being lost.

It appears just about everybody is making sacrifices in some way. With this spirit of sacrifice in the air, it would be reasonable to assume that our federal government is going the extra mile to cut back on unnecessary spending.

Unfortunately, this is not true, and there was a high-profile example of this recently.

Last month, many New York City residents felt like they were re-living an awful dream. A modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet that was being escorted by two F-16 fighter jets flew around the Manhattan area where the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place.

This incident occurred for nearly 30 minutes, and naturally, many people were frightened by it. The city's emergency services were peppered with calls from people, and the incident clearly traumatized some.

However, the source of the incident was quickly identified. The jumbo jet was actually a backup jet for Air Force One, and the White House Military Office commissioned a photo shoot of the plane near national monuments like the Statue of Liberty.

The decision to hold this photo shoot was condemned by just about everybody in the political arena, and to President Barack Obama's credit, he said it was a stupid thing to do and promised a review of the decision making process that went into this.

While most reporting on this incident ended after the president's apology, some follow-up investigating revealed what should have been the real outrage about this.

This photo publicity stunt cost taxpayers $328,835. We are living in an age of economic hardship that has impacted tens of millions of Americans, and the government makes a decision to spend well-above a quarter of a million dollars just to get some new cool photos of Air Force One.

Maybe nothing should surprise me anymore, but examples like this deeply frustrate me. And it should have the same impact on everybody reading this, too.

I already know the counter arguments to my frustration. Some would say: I know $328,835 seems like a lot of money, but it is only a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of dollars that flow through our government.

After all, $328,835 is far less than one percent of our national budget.

However, the people who would make this argument are either Obama apologists or people who have totally lost touch with the reality in which most Americans live.

If people can make this argument with a straight face, then it is time for me to dig a hole in my backyard and live the rest of my life underground.

President Obama was elected primarily because he promised changed. He said the word "change" at least 10 million times during his campaign.

Unfortunately, this incident shows not everything has changed.

More disturbingly, how many incidents like this are going on without the public knowing about it?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I have answered the question: What is the meaning of life?

For centuries, people have sought to answer the question: What is the meaning of life? Today, while driving home, I came to an important conclusion regarding spirituality, religion, and the condition of the human heart that I believe answers this question.

Unfortunately, because I was driving, I could not write it down. Now, I have forgotten what I was going to write.

So, in place of that, please enjoy this photo of a dead possum that I took near where I work.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Quote of the day

"I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. So, because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth. You can build your filthy world without me." -- spoken by Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film Gangs of New York.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the finest actor I have ever seen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Country music dominating my listening habits these days

For reasons I can't explain, I have been listening to a lot of country music lately. Then again, good music is good music. Here are some tunes you might want to consider:

'Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line' by Waylon Jennings
'Flowers on the Wall' by The Statler Brothers
'King of the Road' by Roger Miller
'Don't Come Home a-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)' by Loretta Lynn
'Jackson' by Johnny Cash with June Carter
'Daddy Sang Bass' by Johnny Cash
'Mama Tried' by Merle Haggard
'Okie from Muskogee' by Merle Haggard
'Harper Valley P.T.A.' by Jeannie C. Riley
'Crying in the Chapel' by Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires
'Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town' by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition
'Skip a Rope' by Henson Cargill
'Wichita Lineman' by Glen Campbell

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Flood, May 2009

Like most of Middle Tennessee, Manchester has been on the receiving end of a lot of rain in the last couple of days. Unofficial reports state that we have received between four and five inches. Predictably, this is causing problems.

Photo #1 (see top photo below) was taken at Manchester's city park along the Little Duck River. The white capping seen in the middle of the photo is where water is pounding against the concrete walkway citizens use to walk over the river. This part of the walkway was completely submerged when I took this, which is the first time I have seen this happen. The water behind the trees in the back of the photo shows how far the river has jumped its banks.

Photo #2 shows a different angle of the flood along the same river. The trees in the foreground normally are along the edge of the river.

Photo #3 shows more of the impact the rain has had at the park. The greenway people use to exercise on has been overtaken in several areas by water. This photo was taken from the sidewalk on the concrete bridge that hangs over one end of the greenway.

Let's hope the river subsides soon, and people impacted by all this rain can get back to a normal life.